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Findings Reveal Brain Mechanisms at Work During Sleep

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 4:28pm

New findings report the important role sleep plays, and the brain mechanisms at work as sleep shapes memory, learning, and behavior. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. 

One in five American adults show signs of chronic sleep deprivation, making the condition a widespread public health problem. Sleeplessness is related to health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular problems, and memory problems. 

The findings show that: 

• Sleepiness disrupts the coordinated activity of an important network of brain regions; the impaired function of this network is also implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. 

• Sleeplessness plays havoc with communication between the hippocampus, which is vital for memory, and the brain’s “default mode network;” the changes may weaken event recollection. 

• In a mouse model, fearful memories can be intentionally weakened during sleep, indicating new possibilities for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

• Loss of less than half a night’s sleep can impair memory and alter the normal behavior of brain cells. 

“As these research findings show, we cannot underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep,” said press conference moderator Clifford Saper, PhD, MD, from the Harvard Medical School. “Brain imaging and behavioral studies are illuminating the brain pathways that are blocked or contorted by sleep deprivation, and the risks this poses to learning, memory, and mental health.” 

This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.

Date: Oct. 16, 2012
Source: Society for Neuroscience 

 

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